Break With Prodi: Prepare a Workers' Alternative - Part Two

In Part Two of the document of the Italian Marxists, presented at the national congress of the Partito della Rifondazione Comunista (PRC) which opens today in Venice, the comrades draw a balance sheet of the previous congress and deal with the questions of the war in Iraq, the crisis of capitalism in Italy and Europe and draw up a programme of transitional demands that the party should adopt.

First Signatories: Claudio Bellotti, Alessandro Giardiello [members of the Central Committee]

[Notes containing additional information for our non-Italian readers are included within brackets throughout the text]

The PRC and the “Movimenti”: A balance sheet of the previous congress

Claudio Bellotti, member of
the PRC Central Committee

[In Italy the term “movimenti” refers to the mainly non-union and non-party mass movements, such as the anti-globalisation movement, that deal with broad social issues but which are not based on the working class.]

The Fifth Congress of the Party (2002) was characterized by a turn towards the “movimenti,” of the so-called “contamination” and the complete [and totally uncritical] identification of the PRC with these movements, in particular with the “anti-globalisation movement”.

This turn went hand-in-hand with a general process of ideological revisionism (on religion, “non-violence”, resistance, the role of the party, etc.), whose supposed aim was to remove all barriers separating the “movimenti” from the Party organization.

Two years later it is easy to see that this aim has not been achieved. The membership figures, the level of activity, sales of Liberazione [the Party’s journal], all the primary indicators of the organized influence of the Party in society show a constant decline. Even as the Party leadership continues to swear by the “movimenti” in every statement, it is abundantly clear that the Party is weakest of all precisely in the realm of these movements.

The position on the war in Iraq advanced by the GAD and endorsed by the Party has opened up a huge fissure between the Party and the anti-war movement. To make matters worse, the infatuation with the “anti-globalisation movement” led to a clumsy attempt at a merger with the “disobbedienti” [”disobedient” – a radical tendency, mainly squatters who follow Toni Negri and the autonomist theories of the 1970’s], that (as we foresaw) later fell to pieces without yielding any gains whatsoever. On the contrary it came at quite a cost, as it provoked a split in the Party within sectors of the Giovani Comunisti, the Young Communist organization [instead of wining youth from the “movimenti” young members of the party went over to the “movimenti” abandoning the party!]

In effect, the policy of “contamination” with the movement meant nothing but the emulation of “disobbedienti” actions. In broad terms, all that it entailed was the endorsement of the latest “fashionable” theories produced at the headquarters of the Social Forums. This erroneous policy caused the Party to turn its back on the labour movement at a crucial point in the class struggle, when the huge demonstrations on Article 18 were underway.

Not only in its theoretical framework, but also in its praxis, the party’s idea of the so--called “new workers’ movement” has prevented it from intervening in the real conflicts of the class struggle. The fundamental role of class-consciousness has been replaced by a mass of superficial “critical cultures” (feminism, environmentalism, pacifism, etc.) that are touted as the building blocks of a new communist identity.

The Party’s rejection of Stalinism was regrettably formulated from the outlook of such “critical cultures”. It was couched within a vague critique of the “20th Century” as a whole, which included the idea of the seizure of power by the working class. As a result, the political content of the critique carries an inherent rejection of the legacy of the October Revolution and the early Communist International (before its Stalinist degeneration). Such a critique of Stalinism is completely divorced from not only the analytical method of scientific socialism, but also from the outlook of class-consciousness as well. Quite the contrary, it moves the Party towards the camp of traditional Liberalism and Social Democracy.

The mobilisations that we have witnessed these past few years have been very heterogeneous, involving many layers of society. But nevertheless, it is crucial that the Party poses a clear strategy in these mobilisations. Our analytical efforts cannot be confined to a set list of issues, such as: the “anti-globalisation movement”, the girotondi [a typical left-wing petit-bourgeois intellectuals’ movement, taking its name from a human chain that was organized around the Parliament in Rome a few years ago. The film director Nanni Moretti is one of its leaders.], the war, defence of public health, etc. The viewpoint of the class struggle must be the basis from which all policies and actions derive. The decisive role of the proletariat and its organizations has been confirmed again and again by the events of the past few years. It is due precisely to the involvement of the working class that the recent mobilisations have taken on a mass character. Understanding this is the key to formulating any strategy aimed at paving the way to a genuine alternative to capitalism. The working class must stand at the forefront of the mass movement. It must take hold of every truly progressive current in society and weld them together into one unwaveringly class-conscious revolutionary movement.

This is the only realistic strategy for merging and advancing all mass movements. Any other perspective will squander the potential of the movements, break them apart, waste their energies, hold them back until finally, they will be beaten by disappointment and reaction.

War, Imperialism, Pacifism and Resistance

The war in Iraq clearly reveals the crisis of US imperialism. It has demonstrated the limits of the “invincible” military power of the US. The US is bogged down in Iraq, stuck in a hopeless occupation that will bring it into conflict with the whole of the Iraqi people in revolt. They cannot win, but neither can they withdraw the troops, as this would demonstrate the weakness of the US to the entire world. And it was for this very war that the US brashly challenged the whole world, declaring that the war would commence regardless of any other nation’s support or opposition. Bush’s second presidency will change nothing. This one man, living in the White House, does not really take the decisions. Instead, the collective interests of the American capitalists determine the agenda of US imperialism. They cannot win, and the hopelessness of the occupation will provoke desperation, and so, before they are forced to retreat from Iraq, the US will commit numerous atrocities. As any last hope of success is shattered, the US will be forced to find a new goal: to leave Iraq in a state of such utter devastation – in such economic, social and cultural chaos – that there will be no material left for the development of a mass movement that could inspire the Arab world to fight against imperialism.

It has been the American imperialists who have done everything in their power to ignite ethnic and religious conflict in Iraq. If they are forced to abandon Iraq, they will leave it burning in total chaos.

The Iraqi people will have no choice but to fight for freedom. They will challenge the most modern army in the world and brave the most horrible atrocities of our time. The terrible weight of this struggle is on the shoulders of the Iraqi workers, unemployed, and peasants.

The Italian labour movement, with the communists giving the lead, must take an active role in this momentous struggle. We must firmly oppose both the imperialist ideologues and the reactionary fundamentalists. Both of these groups advance the reactionary idea that a “clash of civilizations” is unfolding. The bloody and brutal terrorist campaigns of Al-Qaeda and other fundamentalist groups are presented in pro-war propaganda as the sole opposition against the occupation. Actually, they represent a very small section of the resistance, which has increasingly assumed a mass character, involving hundreds of thousands of militants who are supported by the population. There has not only been a crescendo of guerrilla actions against the troops of occupation but also episodes of mass mobilisation with strikes, demonstrations and mass revolts against both the occupation and the collaborationist government.

Communists must be very clear on the matter: the Iraqi people have the right and the duty to revolt against this criminal occupation. They can only succeed in this struggle if it is of a mass character, with the working class leading all the oppressed layers of society. The military aspect of the resistance must be subordinate to, and based on, the perspective of mass insurrection to free the country from the occupying forces. The greater the degree to which the international labour movement shows its solidarity with the Iraqi people by actively fighting against the occupation with demonstrations, strikes, and boycotts, the greater will be the degree of difficulty that the fundamentalist demagogues will encounter as they seek to contaminate the resistance with their reactionary and divisive ideology. The reactionaries will, however, succeed if the faces of Blair, Schroeder, D’Alema and others of their kind are allowed to represent the labour movement. Likewise the reactionaries will succeed if the Communist Parties of the world tie themselves to the collaborationist policies of the Iraqi CP, or with the ambiguous positions that have so far characterised the PRC on the resistance in Iraq.

The Arab bourgeoisie has completely betrayed the Arab peoples’ struggle for freedom, particularly in Palestine and Iraq. This is true not only of the most reactionary regimes, such as those of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates – the most faithful allies of US Imperialism. This is also true for the regimes born out of the tradition of “progressive” Arab nationalism, namely Libya, Syria, Ba’athist Iraq itself, and the Palestinian National Authority. It is up to the Arab labour movement alone to raise the banner of freedom and unity of the Arab peoples throughout this region, a region divided by national barriers artificially imposed by imperialism over the past century. The struggle to free the Arab world is a struggle against the Arab bourgeoisie and their governments. Real victory is only possible when the mass movement of the Arab workers stand upon the principle that the solution to the problem of national oppression is tied to the task of social emancipation.

A Socialist Federation of the Middle East, wherein workers and peasants will directly manage the immense resources of the region, is the only structure within which a genuine solution may be found, and the only basis upon which the harmonious development of the Middle East can progress. Over time it would solve the national conflicts by granting equal rights to all the peoples of the Middle East, be they Arab, Jew, Berber, Kurd – in short to all oppressed people of the Middle East. Only with a socialist federation can the different nationalities, cultures and religions of the Middle East live together in peace. The only future under capitalism is one of war, Balkanisation, the continuing of the Arab-Israeli conflicts, and everlasting division and oppression. Decades of completely ineffective “peace talks” have proven that capitalism can never resolve the problems of the Arab masses. In fact, those talks underpinned the utopian perspective of a fair peace within the framework of capitalism. In the end, they merely meant continuous deceit and betrayal for the Palestinian masses and for the Jews themselves, who have been thrown into a blind alley by such policies.

In the same way, whatever attempts imperialism makes to gradually withdraw from Iraq, even if discussed within the UN along with the inevitable plethora of “peace talks”, can only result into a new betrayal for the Iraqi people. This could, for example, end up with the establishment of an international mandate, as happened in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan.

The labour movement in the West must assist the struggles of the Arab workers, including closer links with the large immigrant communities in Italy and Europe. We must clearly state, and demonstrate in practice through our actions, our staunch opposition to the war and complete solidarity with the Resistance. Finally, the labour movement must firmly reject the idea of a UN occupation or mandate over Iraq.

Capitalist crisis and its consequences

The capitalist crisis is unfolding on a world scale. This is not a simple crisis of “globalisation” or “neo-liberalism”, or a “simple” crisis of a certain economic policy. It is absolutely wrong to believe this. The crisis we are facing is an organic crisis on a world scale, something much more profound than the “normal” ebbs and flows and economic cycles that capitalism has always experienced.

Signals of such a crisis can be seen in the piling up of explosive contradictions and in the breakdown of international relations, in the seemingly endless sequence of trade, diplomatic and military conflicts. Last but not least, we are experiencing the end of social peace, the crisis of reformism and class collaboration, the emergence of revolutionary situations in several areas around the world, particularly in Latin America.

The hegemony of US imperialism is now in question. The quagmire in the Middle East, growing economic troubles, difficulties in keeping under control the situation in their traditional “backyard” of Latin America, all these are clear signals. George W. Bush’s arrogant and aggressive foreign policy cannot be read as a demonstration of power but, on the contrary, it exposes the attempt to shore up a shaky supremacy, both towards its potential competitors and against the growing revolts everywhere in the ex-colonial countries. In fact, none of these countries are going to tolerate a dollarised “democracy” anymore, and they are not going to stand any longer for US control or impositions on their sovereignty.

The inevitable breakdown of US policy in Iraq will have deep revolutionary consequences, the first being the end of the role of “world policeman” played by the US. In the last decades, this has been one of the most relevant factors holding back revolutionary processes on a large scale, the more so after 1991 after the first Gulf War, particularly in poor countries.

The problems the US faces stem from gigantic economic contradictions. The US economy has lived beyond its means for many years, piling up a huge debt in order to finance its high level of consumption. The situation worsened after the bursting of the speculative “bubble” and the so-called “new economy”. The situation worsened for both private consumption levels that families can afford and also for the huge expenditure at a federal level. The latter continues to soar due to massive military spending and is now reaching the highest levels ever seen, to the extent that the US budget deficit now runs upwards of 4% of GDP, if not more.

The contradictions in the US economy have an impact on the global economy. The US imports enormous quantities of goods, mainly from Asia. But these massive imports are financed by continuous, and growing, new debt. The USA is today the world’s largest borrower. The overall foreign debt stands at around 25% of GDP and private debt, that is household debt, stands at around 107% of annual revenue.

Thus international finance and economy as a whole are riven with huge tensions. They are time bombs that could explode at any moment, dragging the entire world economy into a new crisis – even before a new recovery can take off.

The crisis in Europe

This situation of massive imbalances and relentless competition has ruled out the possibility of a generalised policy of reform. This is particularly true in Europe. Europe cannot cope with the aggressive policies of the US and suffers from increased competition from Asia. Thus, the European ruling classes are left no other choice and have launched new dramatic attacks on the living conditions of the working class across the continent.

Germany is the richest and most powerful European country. It used to be the homeland of social peace and class collaboration. But now, with a Social Democratic government, the ruling class is unleashing a tremendous attack on the working class. The declared aim of these attacks is to cut household living standards by 30%. This is an unprecedented attack on the working class. These are attacks the likes of which have not been seen in Germany, indeed in all of Europe, since the Second World War. We must wonder what will happen in Italy if this is what the workers in the richest country in Europe have to cope with. What is going to happen in countries that have had their industrial bases extremely weakened and that are burdened by massive public debt?

This background explains why reformist trade unions and political parties are facing so many difficulties at the present time. In this economic context any consistent reformist policy in favour of the working class is unthinkable. We are now faced with “reformism without reforms”, or better still, “reformism with counter-reforms”. This is what Schroeder, Blair, and D’Alema propose to the working class, but such policies simply cannot be tolerated in the long run.

The rightwing of the Social Democracy (Schroeder, Blair, D’Alema) have gradually endorsed all capitalist policies imposed by the ruling classes and have made them their own. They therefore have no future. Similarly, the policies that the leftwing of the Social Democracy have begun discussing will have no future. The dream of a return to Keynesian policies, of capitalist “programming”, in a word, a return to the golden age of reformist policies of the 1960s is even more nonsensical. Keynesian policies were only possible at that time thanks to the enormous economic boom, of the so-called “economic miracle”. In Europe the economic boom during these years provided sufficient room for the building of the welfare state. In fact, the wave of working class struggles in the 1960s and 1970s, and the need to face the challenge of the Soviet bloc, pushed the ruling class towards social compromise and forced them to give concessions.

Today the economic context is radically different. Thus, proposals like those of the leftwing of the DS [Italy’s main Social Democratic party], FIOM [Italy’s most important metalworkers’ union and among those federated in the CGIL], Ig-Metall or the new leftwing tendencies emerging in Germany or in other Social Democratic parties, are utterly unviable.

The utopian dream that European unification can create an economic basis which would allow for reformist policies will be smashed against harsh reality. The process of European integration, and the measures by which it proceeds, are entirely composed of reactionary, anti-working class policies, both on the domestic front (i.e. the stability agreement, liberalisation of public services, privatisations, attacks on social security) and the international plane (i.e. the European army, laws against immigrants etc.).

The establishment of the European Left Party itself was based on the hypothesis that European unification on a capitalist basis would somehow create wide enough margins to allow for reformist policies. This is the real meaning of the slogan of a “social Europe” that now echoes throughout the so-called alternative and radical left (e.g. LCR in France). Such a position is entirely false and utopian, as it does not take into account the class character of so-called “europeismo” [having illusions in the project of Europe]. The only Europe possible under capitalism is a continent that will have openly imperialist policies abroad and anti-working class policies within its national boundaries. Claiming to be genuinely “europeisti” [being in favour of the European project] means supporting the reactionary policies against the working class and the European people as a whole that are dictated by Brussels.

Therefore, the contradictions currently dividing European countries prevent the very conclusion of the process of unification. We must also bear in mind that the levels of integration that have been achieved so far cannot be taken for granted. And we cannot at all exclude the possibility that the present levels of integration may even unravel.

In this context, we can see the specific weakness of Italian capitalism. The introduction of the Euro revealed the weakness of Italy’s industry. In the past Italy’s industry had been allowed to operate with a devalued currency and massive amounts of public funding. Italy is the weak link in the chain of European capitalism. In fact, Italy has recently experienced the disappearance of its basic industries, and is witnessing growing inflation (which is not just due to speculation as many people like to think, but is also a symptom of the low level of competitiveness of the Italian economic system as a whole). We are also seeing the actual colonisation of the Italian economy by foreign capital. If there is not sufficient room for manoeuvre to allow for reformism in Europe, this is all the more true in Italy. This is why a consistent struggle for social reforms will crash against the rocks of such rigid capitalist constraints; therefore these struggles could potentially develop into anti-capitalist struggles.

Elements of an alternative programme

All of this does not mean that Communists should abandon the struggle for reforms altogether because they are “unviable”. On the contrary, the worsening of economic conditions compels millions of people to fight for such basic rights as healthcare, education, employment, social security and so on. Our task is to stand at the forefront of all these struggles, supporting every progressive demand. We must consistently tie all of those demands to the necessity of a radical transformation of the economic system and the necessity of breaking the shackles of capitalism as the only way to achieve a genuine improvement of living conditions.

We present here some demands that are central to an alternative programme in this period:

1) For a right to a job: Repeal Law 30 [a law passed in 2004 enabling all sorts of “flexible” working conditions]. Repeal the Treu Laws [the law that the Prodi government approved similar to the above but milder.]. All temporary contracts must be transferred into permanent labour contracts. For the defence of all jobs threatened by downsizing and closures. For the shortening of the working week to 35 hours without any wage reduction or increased “flexibility”. If necessary, for the nationalisation under workers’ control of all enterprises in difficulty without compensation except for small shareholders.

2) Wages: For a new sliding scale of wages. For the defence of national collective bargaining agreements and the repeal of any policy of class collaboration. For a decent minimum wage and decent unemployment benefits. We demand decent pensions for all and stand against any privatisation of pension funds.

3) Welfare: Free health and education for all. Against the encroachment of private enterprises in school programmes and against the regional/federal counter-reform of education and healthcare. For the doubling of the percentage of GDP allocated to education to 7%.

4) Public services: For the nationalisation under workers’ control, without compensation except for small shareholders, of all industries privatised over the last few years, such as the telecommunications companies, Enel (electricity), Eni (oil and refineries), public services and so on.

5) For a right to decent housing: Expropriation of the big real estate companies that keep thousands of empty houses in order cause house prices to soar. For an end to the selling off of public housing. For a general public house building programme with rent not more than 10% of wages.

6) For the heavy taxation of the large financial institutions as the first step towards the complete expropriation of large financial estates.

7) For the use of the resources made available through these measures to develop a plan of economic, social and environmental recovery, under the control of the workers, pensioners, and mass organisations.

8) Full democratic rights for immigrants: Repeal of the Turco-Napolitano and Bossi-Fini laws [The latter is a reactionary law passed by the Berlusconi government on immigration.]. For the closure of CPTs [Temporary Stay Centres]. Against fixed immigration quotas, for a work permit for all and the right to vote after one year of residence.

9) Against Law 40 [on fertility treatment], against any attacks on law 194 the law allowing abortion, approved in 1978]. Support the struggle for women’s rights in the workplace and in society as a whole: repeal of night work for women, and for the re-launching of free family planning clinics and healthcare centres, nurseries, crèches and of all welfare structures needed for consistent public care and assistance.

Against the capitalist Europe of Maastricht, Schengen and the Constitutional treaty. Italy out of NATO and the closure of all US and NATO military bases. For the withdrawal of all troops from Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans.